Howard Week

March 21, 2004

Howard County's taxable base now exceeds Baltimore's

Like a teen-ager after a growth spurt, Howard County officials are looking in wonder at their reflection in state assessment figures showing the county's taxable base is now worth more than much larger Baltimore City's.

Howard's total value - covering residential and commercial/industrial property - outpaced Baltimore for the first time in 2001, though Howard's residential base passed the city's in 1998. Baltimore's concentration of businesses and industry kept the city's total tax base larger for three more years, said state assessment officials.

The county's assessable base of $25.42 billion will be $6 billion larger than Baltimore's by July 1, according to state estimates, thanks largely to the soaring price of suburban land and homes, and despite having only 40 percent of Baltimore's population.

2 plans offered to change way Columbia is governed

For more than three years, Columbia's often-convoluted governing structure has been studied in an attempt to streamline the way the planned community is ruled.

Many residents have been frustrated with the system, in which voting rights, election rules and Columbia Council terms of office vary by village.

Two residents - Andy Stack, a member of the Owen Brown Village Board, and Joshua Feldmark, vice chairman of the Columbia Association board - have drafted proposals to change the governing structure. On March 11, the association board voted to have a committee study both plans.

Each of Columbia's 10 villages now elects a council member, who then becomes a member of the Columbia Association. The council then appoints itself as the Columbia Association board.

Stack's proposal would give more power to Columbia's village associations by making them members of the association and disbanding the council, which now consists of the same 10 members as the board. The proposal would also allow each village to elect a representative to the board.

Feldmark's plan is similar, and he also proposes adding an 11th member to the board, who would be a full-time, paid representative elected Columbiawide. Feldmark has also suggested that the person act as chairman.

The committee will report to the board by November after it has studied both recommendations.

Financial firm moving into Ellicott House

One of the oldest surviving buildings in Ellicott City is passing into new hands.

Academy Financial, a Towson-based financial planning firm, will soon move into the George Ellicott House, built in 1789 by a son of one of the founders of the town, then known as Ellicott Mills.

House panel approves measure to cap levy

A House of Delegates committee unanimously approved Monday a bill that aims to offer financial relief to Columbia residents by imposing a 10 percent cap on rising property assessments in the planned community.

But the Environmental Matters Committee killed another bill that would allow two-thirds of voting property owners to amend the Columbia Association's covenants. Now, the association's covenants can be amended only by unanimous approval of property owners.

HB 566 would limit the impact of skyrocketing state property tax assessments on the Columbia Association's annual charge imposed on property owners. It would also phase in the change in assessment over three years. The association's covenants require the homeowners association to collect on a property's highest valuation.

The legislation will now go to the House floor.

`Hyper-grocery' sought for east Columbia site

A New York developer is seeking to bring a huge upscale supermarket to an industrial site in east Columbia despite opposition from Howard County planners and the Rouse Co., which fears it could hurt Columbia's village concept.

County and Rouse officials praised Wegmans as a first-rate store, but said after a hearing in Ellicott City on Monday that putting a 100,000-square-foot "hyper-grocery" on industrially zoned land would hurt the planned town and reduce the amount of land available for manufacturing.

Wegmans has not agreed to build a store in Columbia, but Staten Island, N.Y., developer Timothy C. Harrison is hoping to attract the store if he can get permission for the project.

The chain has 66 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia.

Fire that destroyed mansion is termed an accident

A fire that destroyed a Clarksville mansion March 12, causing an estimated $6.7 million in damage, started accidentally, according to Howard County fire officials.

William E. Mould, a Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services spokesman, confirmed reports last week that the fire in the home of developer Frederick W. Kunkle Jr. in the 12700 block of Maryvale Court started after several children were burning paper outside the home. A spark ignited material in the garage about 5 p.m., Mould said, and the fire moved rapidly into the 28,000-square-foot house.

Ailing tree succumbs to age, is to be felled

A towering sugar maple tree that has stood for more than a century in front of Historic Oakland, will soon be cut down.

The tree has succumbed to age, with large cracks in the trunk and rotted wood, and the Columbia Association has decided to cut it down.

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